The international jet set

Posted by Paddy Davitt

If anyone wants to know just how far Norwich City have travelled since plumbing the depths of League One back in 2009, the current international shut down is as good a barometer as any.

At the last count, a total of nine members of Chris Hughton’s Premier League squad jetted off to everywhere from Canada to Azerbaijan and many points in between during this fortnight hiatus from English top flight action. A figure inconceivable barely three seasons ago after the first season in 50 years spent languishing outside the top two divisions began with a humiliating 7-1 opening day defeat at home to Colchester; a result that carries residual mental scars in Norfolk.

The man in the opposite dug-out that warm afternoon went from chief tormentor to saviour after City’s hierarchy identified Paul Lambert as the man to replace Bryan Gunn. Hughton is now the inheritor of a fantastic legacy left by his predecessor. Not only in league status and financial security off the park, but in a playing squad peppered with international class footballers.

Hughton himself has been responsible for increasing Norwich’s international contingent with moves for Scotland’s Robert Snodgrass and Norway’s Alexander Tettey over the summer. Tottenham deadline day loan signing Harry Kane is another gem who is part of Stuart Pearce’s England U21 squad this week aiming for European Championship qualification. Alongside him on Three Lions duty are central defender Ryan Bennett and back-up keeper Declan Rudd.

Hughton has plenty of talent between the sticks at his disposal. Mark Bunn may have been recruited recently to add experienced cover for England squad man John Ruddy, but below him is Rudd and another England age group starlet in Jed Steer.

Hughton and Lambert for that matter before him have both welcomed Ruddy’s elevation to Roy Hodgson’s senior squad. The big St Ives-bred keeper suffered a pre-Euro 2012 hand injury in training which wrecked his bid to go to Poland and Ukraine. Hodgson wasted little time in drafting Ruddy back into the squad and blooding him in an encouraging friendly win over Italy in August. Joe Hart is England’s undisputed number one, but Ruddy is his natural deputy should injury or loss of form weigh against the Manchester City custodian. Of the available English keeping talent currently operating in the Premier League, Ruddy has few equals. The unflappable Norwich number one proved he had the consistency last season allied to the talent to operate in the Premier League. Ruddy was all that stood between Norwich and even greater embarrassment on the opening day of this new campaign at Fulham but much-improved defensive displays against both QPR and Tottenham prior to the international break have eased him back into the swing.

Add the likes of Wales’ Steve Morison, Scotland’s Russell Martin and Canadian striker Simeon Jackson and you begin to understand why those inside Norfolk who have an affiliation to the Canaries retain a quiet mood of optimism that City can again buck the prevailing trend - the dreaded ‘second season’ syndrome tag that will stalk Hughton and his players over the months to come.

And that is just a roll call of those already on the international circuit. Wes Hoolahan and Anthony Pilkington were both approached by the Republic of Ireland for their August friendly draw in Serbia, but were forced to decline invitations due to injury. South African-born Andrew Surman is wanted by the land of his birth, but has so far resisted calls from the Bafana Bafana, citing the demands of long-haul travel on a young family.

Talent like Jonny Howson and Elliott Bennett have the raw materials to catch Hodgson’s eye if they can build in the sort of consistency that has catapulted Ruddy into England circles.

These are good times for the Canaries. Three years ago they had a group of players incapable of making an impression in League One. Now they have a squad with the potential to blossom on the biggest international stages.

ESPN Conversations